The period of the late seventies to the early eighties found Franco and his TPOK Jazz at the very peak of their powers. They thoroughly dominated the music charts across the continent. They were now releasing at least five albums every year , each of which was a chart topper, while staging concerts not only in Africa but also in Europe. Rivals Afrisa International simply did not have the personnel to compete with them , Orchestre Veve which had provided them with a lot of competion in the 70s , was on its last legs , while Kabasselleh's Africa Jazz was all but dead. In addition , Franco was installed as the honorary president of the musicians union UMUZA and was awarded the title of The Grand Master of Zairean music. If cloud nine ever existed, Franco was riding it .
A list of OK Jazz members now read like a musical dream team. The frontline now consisted of stalwarts like Josky , Madilu, Dalienst , Opetum , and Youlou. The string section had Simaro , Papa Noel, Dizzy Madjeku ,Jerry and Wuta Mayi among others ,while the horn section had Matalanza , Musekiwa , Empopo Loway and Rondot Kassongo.
Josky and Dalienst became the bands biggest stars (besides Franco) in the early eighties. Josky thrilled fans with compositions like Soweto,Nostalgie , Mbanzi ya Kamundele, and Tokabola sentiment (known to many fans as Kizunguzungu). Dalienst made his presence felt with Tantine , Mouzi and his biggest hit Bina na Ngai na respect(dance with me with respect). Other big hits of the period included Papa Noel's Tangawusi Opetum's Mawe and Youyou Simaro's Mandola and Mbawu Nakorecuperer .
Franco himself contributed a medley of mega hits , notably Tokoma ba Camarade pamba, Chacun pour soi , Tres Fache and Sandoka Sandoka was a moving ballad about a girl who was in love with someone but could not marry him because certain people presumably her family were against it. The song features sublime vocals by Opetum and Dalienst , augmented by a harmonius chorus.
Josky was now the bands pre-eminent vocalist
In 1982 Franco re-united with Sam Mangwana to produce an album labelled Cooperation which included the song popularly known as Odongo , about a kenyan trader and the classic hit Zala sportif which is to me Mangwana's best effort yet. The album also included Simaro's classic Faute ya commercante ( the businesswoman's fault).
Franco also re-united with Michelino and his arch-rival , Tabu Ley to produce a series of albums , the first of which was titled L'evenement (the final event) and contained the song Lisanga ya Banganga which means an association of sorcerers ( sorcerers of music). In that album , the trio also payed tribute to Le Grande Kalle who had just passed away. Franco hailed him as the Father of modern Zairean music.
Franco and Rochereau in a Paris studio during the recording of their historic cooperation
1983 was a banner year for TPOK jazz. That year they released no less than 10 albums and toured North America for the very first time. That year saw Madilu System step to the forefront and become the bands lead singer thanks to the first of a series of classic duets which He performed with Franco.
The first album Chez Fabrice contained the song titled Non which was a slow ,moving folklore in which Franco and Madilu 'talked' about love , marriage and life in general. Non was a true masterpiece not just for its content but also for its amazing rythmic arrangemants.
Mamou was a song about a married woman who cheats on his husband while he is away on a business trip. Madilu wowed audiences with his silken tenor voice which earned the title 'the man with the golden voice.
Franco, Tabu Ley and Michelino teamed up once again to produce the album Lettre a monsieur directeur general. The song suite lettre number 2 on that album was an autobiography by Franco in which he answered many of the critisisms that were levelled against him such as accusations of sorcery. Michelino then teamed up briefly with TPOK Jazz to release his own album titled Benediction and featuring among other songs Pointe carre and Mutambula Mpimpa. (man I wish I could get that album !!!!)As a follow up to this the explosive hit Missile was released featuring Josky as lead vocalist and Michelino's magical fingers working the lead guitar.
Other hits of 1983 included the album 'Franco presente Josky Kiambukuta' which featured Alita ,Mehida and Massikini, Franco presente Youlou Mabialla , featuring Motema na ngai television and 'Franco presente Lutumba Simaro'.
Simaro's album included the song Mbongo-money-L'Argent which was a soulful lament about the problems created by money. He lamented that money divides families, ends marriages ,breaks up friendships etc. The song was delivered in piercing fashion by Djo Mpoyi , whose silken voice tore deep into all listeners hearts. Also in the same album was another of Simaro's classics Lopango Batekisa , which Josky delivered in typically brilliant fashion , amid a medley of ringing saxes and swinging trumpetes.